Sunday, March 8, 2020

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - McDonley

Name: Laura McDonley
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: A Whisper in a Windstorm

Chapter 1

She circled the beast. Muscles tensed, its hungry eyes followed her every movement. As always, she had a plan ready to bring down the massive bacura. Crouched low, she stepped in time with the creature; a dance practiced more times than she could count. Snorting, the bacura pawed the ground with its mud-caked hooves. A’dya readied her weapon for the strike.

Lowering its tusks, the bacura charged.

“One. Two. Three,” she counted, then dove toward the right flank in a forward tumble.

In the matter of seconds her dagger slashed the bacura’s calf, successfully severing its hamstring. Blood mixed with mud and tangled gray fur. The monster could not support its body and collapsed where it had stood. Seizing the moment, A’dya lunged before the beast recovered from the fall. Quickly she pounced, opening its throat and silencing its rage.

Resting on the animal’s side, she forced herself to take long deep breaths. Iron. The air smelled of iron, a constant companion to a fresh kill.

Though she had planned to feast on fruit and greens for her last youngling meal, she wouldn’t waste the meat the bacura provided. Maybe this attack was the animal’s way of congratulating her on surviving the year; an order to celebrate.

Reflexively her hands began to skin the beast and prepare it for cooking. It seemed unreal that her year of seclusion ended tomorrow, her sixteenth birthday. Tomorrow she would join her birth parents at the sacred pool and receive their blessing during her coming of age ceremony. Afterward, she would meet her betrothed, Vleck, and the two would become life mates.

Together, they would all reenter the village. It would be her first time entering as a Fewah, an equal member of the village, mate of Vleck. The realization of the end of twelve years of training was at her fingertips.

A’dya shook her head to disperse her thoughts and pushed a strand of messy white hair out of her violet eyes, accidentally leaving a smear of blood on her cheek. She was thankful for the endless hours of training now. She, like many other younglings, had resented the years that had elapsed after she thought she was ready to test. But the repetition had been her saving grace more than once. Despite her small size she was able to bring down large beasts like this one through habitual movements and clear thinking. Though she was small for a Madorian, around 4’, she had worked to overcome her stature with skill and practice. Vleck was two heads taller than she, and was considered peculiarly tall. Her carer had told her his height would be an advantage to their future offspring if they inherited it. Maybe, she thought, she should bring some of the meat as a gift for Vleck, to make a good first impression. It would be important in their first years to show him that she would be an equal provider in the partnership.

Thoughts of home warmed her heart. Tonight she would eat well and sleep soundly in the nearby caverns where she had sheltered in the night before. The first light in the sky would bring her home.
Chapter 2

            The serenade of the lulabird nudged A’dya into consciousness. Without opening her eyes A’dya smiled at their song. Due to a combination of ghostly white plumage and a dozen old wives’ tales, lulabirds were whispered to be the spirits of lost souls. A’dya thought their songs enchanting. She waked to them almost every morning almost since the beginning of her departure; the birds migrated South for the cold months. For the winter she had been deprived of even their company.

            Rising had never been such a joy as today. The mundane chores she performed every day for a year seemed fresh, almost enjoyable. While packing her rucksack she whistled. While dousing and burying the fire she sang. Her carer would not have recognized her in her good humor.

Glad that she maintained a fast pace on her five-day journey home, A’dya mused that she would have plenty of time to prepare before her ceremony. Moving almost at a running march, it only took A’dya two hours to reach the clearing, arriving exactly at sunrise.
            Certain rituals needed to be performed before her birth parents and Vleck arrived, and A’dya wanted to begin as early as was permitted. The waters of the pool felt therapeutic as she submerged herself, as if the whole years’ worth of dirt and grime washed away. The pool was one of the few places in the forest where there was a large enough clearing to let a significant amount of sunlight through. In fact, she was pleased to discover that sun had warmed the water to a pleasant temperature. Practically giddy, A’dya allowed herself more time than needed to wash so that she could enjoy the warmth. Lying back so she was floating, A’dya mused that it would have been unlucky to have a birth month in the winter as some of her peers would have. She was fortunate to conclude her seclusion in the summer, the first return of the year.

            A’dya took care to wash her face, hands and feet as was required. Her pale face, only obscured by the rippling of the water, stared back at her in the reflection. Her image had changed greatly over the course of the year. Her features had become more defined and her body had become leaner. Her skin that before had been pure of imperfections was now etched with the many scars earned through her sheer determination to live. Those scars were a rite of passage, each mark envied by the unchallenged youth and respected by other Fewah. Each scar represented a test she had endured and conquered. She pictured herself in the future highlighting each scar with a different color paint, as many of the female Fehwah did during village celebrations and holy days.

            After redressing, she prostrated herself on the ground by the Young Tree to wait. The custom was to use this time for prayers and thanksgiving, but she had grown skeptical of the power of the forest spirits. She had become doubtful of their very existence, but, even alone, she was not certain enough to voice the idea out loud. It was not long into her seclusion before she had given up prayer all together. Instead, she used this time to meditate on what was ahead of her. She visualized entering the village an anointed Fewah and joining the esteemed ranks of those that had tested before her. Her motherborn and fatherborn would present her and Vleck. The untested younglings would look at her in awe and admiration. It would be what every youngling dreamt of.

            The sun crowned the sky and descended. As the light ebbed, so did her feeling of pleasure.

            Ideas filtered through her mind as she lay still. Feeling the chill of night brush her spine, A’dya admitted to herself that she would soon have to seek shelter from the night creatures.

            Reluctantly rising to gather her rucksack and boots, she tried to repress the resentment pumping its way through her blood. The thought of being overlooked irritated her, let alone the inconvenience of having to wait another night.

            Collecting her possessions, she mused out loud, “Have they forgotten me? Surely I have come on the right day. I have not miscounted; I have marked the passage of time fervently. They must have forgotten me.”


  1. Hi Laura.

    I think your first paragraph is vague. Your opening line starts with a pronoun instead of using your MC's name and you use the word weapon at the end. As a reader I want to have a mental image from the beginning. You don't need to over-detail but as I imagine she's fighting a imaginary beast, I would like to know what she's using to fight it. Knife, gun, sword, crossbow?

    I think you could add more inner reactions so the reader could be more inside of your MC's head. Did she fear for her life or was she used to be attacked by animals? Like this it could provide more information to the readers about her goal and it's a great opportunity to show her character.

    During your opening scene, I asked myself if fighting the beast was a rite of passage or she's just being attacked on her last day of seclusion. You said she had planned to only eat fruits but is it because she doesn't like to hunt or did the beast caught her by surprise?

    I see you have a great sense of world building and your writing is rich and fluid. I had a better sense of who she is in the second chapter but all the musing slowed the pace. I really liked the hook at the end.

    Good job :)

  2. Hi Laura,

    I like the world that these chapters paint – the young people who have to prove themselves before jointing society. It is a fresh and intriguing idea. I like the small glimpses of culture, like Adya planning to paint the scars on her face in different colors. I can see that the world of the story is rich and interesting. Her hair is white? This is also intriguing.

    I have two main issues that concerned me when reading:

    1. While the excerpt starts with bloody action (which is supposed to be a good thing in novel-writing), the pace slows down after her short fight with the beast. Most of the five pages are of her recollecting about the past years and thinking about the future. I think you can drop some of the world-building (leave it for later), so that you can bring the hook forward (I am guessing the hook is that nobody comes for her birthday ritual). That ending was very intriguing, if possible have it happen earlier, so that more of the pages are about her worrying what’s happened and reacting to it, rather than preparing for that ritual.

    2. I didn’t get a clear feel for Adya’s character. She sounds like a dutiful person (looking forward to returning to society, pleasing her parents, pleasing her future mate), at the same time she resists the religion of her people (the forest spirits) and doesn’t believe in them, which paints her as a person who questions and rebels. It will make it easier for the reader to relate to the character, if her character can be felt through the internal monologue.

    I agree with Amelia’s comments that, if that fighting scene in the beginning is indeed important, we should know more about it: why is she fighting the beast? What is her weapon? Also yes, use her name first and then pronouns. I realize, that if you prolong the fight scene, you won’t have time to include more of the hook (why is nobody there). I guess think about what is more important. Is she fighting the beast important for the story? If not, skip it, and go directly into the core of the story: her family has forgotten her, something she didn’t expect has happened.

    Good luck! I hope this helps 😊


  3. Hi, Laura,

    I like A'dya's strength and independence. Your descriptive writing helps the reader picture the vibrant world you've built. I'm intrigued by the end of chapter 2, wondering what will happen next to this MC, "forgotten" in such a dangerous environment. Clearly, her challenges are only beginning.

    I am fascinated by reality shows that challenge survival skills. The participants must always be concerned with game they kill. It seems that your MC, so skilled at hunting and survival, would give thought to the possibility of the unused skin and carcass of her kill attracting other predators,scavengers. Does she just leave them behind when she goes to the caverns for nighttime shelter, or might she dispose of them in some way? Also, I wandered about how she carried the meat for her dinner and the meat for her gift to Vleck. Does she wrap it in leaves or just heft it on her shoulder? Ewww. But that would give her more to wash off in the pool. :)

    I was a bit distracted by repetitive descriptions of scars in the chapter 2, 5th paragraph: Her skin that before had been pure of imperfections was now etched with the many scars earned through her sheer determination to live (great description). Those scars were a rite of passage [this statement is not needed], each mark envied by the unchallenged youth and respected by other Fewah. Each scar represented a test she had endured and conquered [these 2 statements could be combined into 1 powerful sentence].

    I enjoyed reading your opening.

  4. What do you guys think about starting after she discovers her village has been abandoned and having modified flashbacks in between the next chapters? (taking into account the great feedback you guys have been giving! Thanks!) This particular fight scene isn't crucial, its just to show she is a skilled warrior, despite her appearance.

    1. It depends on what your inciting incident is. I liked that the anticipation to return home built up the tension for when she discovers that there's no more home.

    2. I think this is good idea, try to find where your story really begins. Just try it out and see what works. It has to first work for you, you have to like it.
      But I also like Amelia like the anticipation to return home and the building up of tension when nobody comes. Just whittle down the text until then, drop as much of the world building as possible, avoid infodumping, have the character prepare for a long awaited ritual and then remain worried and disappointed when nobody comes.

  5. Hi Laura,

    You are setting a vivid scene of a society that lives in the wild, where hunters (and warriors?) are highly regarded. You invite the reader into this world and I could feel A'dya's pride at having survived alone for so long and at the idea of becoming a young woman who will take her rightful place in this society. She is strong, proud and eager to return to her village. Reaching that climax where it's getting dark and no-one has come for her definitely invites the reader to find out more.

    I would not start with the fact that her village was abandoned and then use flashbacks, I think it would slow the pace. However, perhaps you could consider starting your story with a single phrase relating to this fact, then move on to the bacura attack (this is just a suggestion).

    There were some phrases that confused me, such as the first two: 'She circled the beast. Muscles tensed, its hungry eyes followed her'. Whose muscles are tensed? If the beast has hungry eyes, is it a predator with sharp teeth and claws? If it has tusks and hooves, I imagine a rhinoceros, so clarify that it is a predator or meat-eater. Does she carry left-over meat with her on her journey home (I hope she does)?

    You use vivid images such as: 'Iron. The air smelled of iron', 'accidentally leaving a smear of blood on her cheek', 'She pictured herself in the future highlighting each scar with a different color paint'. These details are very visual and effective.

    I would also so clarify the timeline a bit. You talk about twelve years of training. It sounds a bit like she was alone for twelve years. I'm also confused by the following paragraph: 'Glad that she maintained a fast pace on her five-day journey home, A’dya mused that she would have plenty of time to prepare before her ceremony. Moving almost at a running march, it only took A’dya two hours to reach the clearing, arriving exactly at sunrise.'

    You talk here about a five-day journey home, yet in the next sentence she arrives in two hours. The chapter start at sunrise, yet here she arrives at sunrise two hours later. Please clarify.

    Maybe move the description of her white hair and purple eyes to the paragraph where she is in the pool and can see her reflection (to show, not tell). You also talk about the pool: 'there was a large enough clearing to let a significant amount of sunlight through'. Does that mean that she spent a whole year in the woods? I'm wondering what the landscape looks like.

    You use a lot of adverbs which are not always necessary, because your descriptions say enough ('quickly she pounced' is redundant, reflexively, reluctantly, greatly...). The word 'almost' is repeated twice here: 'She waked to them almost every morning almost'.

    You also repeat 'They must have forgotten me' twice. I understand this is an important point, but this paragraph might need rewording. I also wouldn't have her say this whole paragraph out loud, unless you specify that she got into the habit of talking out loud to herself while she was alone.

    I hope this help. Take whatever suggestions you want.

    And now I want to know what happened to her village! Great start!

  6. Hello Laura,

    The premise sounds intriguing and I was curious to read on about A’dya’s journey. I do feel this is a good scene to open with, but would do well to open a beat or two before the fight. A beat or two with showing her waiting for the beast, describing its approach, and her emotions—fear, anxiety—of her determination to kill it for food. Did she track it? Did she just happen on it? Also, use her name instead of “She” when you open to help your reader connect to the character.

    The prose needs tightening and the emotions need to be there better by deepening the point of view. For example, if you reworked your first paragraph to this.

    “A’dya circled the beast, muscles tensed. Its angry eyes followed her every movement. She knew how to bring down the massive bacura. Crouched low, she stepped in time with the creature; a dance practiced more times than she could count. It snorted and pawed the ground with mud-caked hooves. She readied her dagger to strike, palms sweaty, heart beating loud in her ears. One misstep and the bacura would impale her with its horn.”

    Every paragraph needs to hold emotional weight and show the scene, not tell it. Another example if paragraph four was reworked it would show more immediacy and show both A’dya’s and the beast’s emotions/reactions.

    “One,” she counted, trying to calm her breaths. “Two. Three.”

    She dove for the bacura’s right flank and sliced its calf with her dagger, severing its hamstring. Blood mixed with mud and tangled, gray fur. The monster howled and snorted before thudding to the ground, dust shooting into the air around it. Before the beast could recover, she lunged at it again and opened its throat with her blade, silencing its rage.”

    Another example, the 3rd to last paragraph could be reworked like this…

    “Where were they? Fear filtered through her mind as she lay still on the dry grass listening for any sound of them coming. The chilly evening air caused a shiver up her spine. She’d have to seek shelter from the night creatures soon.”

    Why make this two chapters? The first one is short and doesn’t have a hook ending. You could just make this one chapter and transition to morning or come up with a better chapter end that hooks the reader into continuing onto the next chapter.

    I have similar suggestions as the other commenters have mentioned so I won’t repeat them, but they give you many good ideas to help better your opening pages. I do believe you are starting in the right place, but you need to show more than tell, tighten the prose, give A’dya’s emotions more. Deepen the point of view by using action, then reaction, then emotion. I hope this helps, and good luck revising!